Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Minnie's Room by Mollie Panter-Downes

I had my husband buy me a copy of Minnie's Room by Mollie Panter-Downes on one of his trips across the pond because I love, love, loved Good Evening, Mrs. Craven. It's one of my all-time favorite short story collections for the way the author was able to plunk you in the midst of wartime England (WWII) and reveal what everyday life was like. So, I had high hopes for Minnie's Room, her collection of postwar short stories.

While the stories themselves could be a little ho-hum, not much to see here (everyday life after the war apparently interests me a lot less than during), Panter-Downes' writing style absolutely blows me away. She had a phenomenal ability to place the reader in a scene, making the characters and their surroundings so vivid that you can practically see the "miniature Gobi" brought in from the seaside, feel the wind, smell the cooking or the wine or the musty dampness.

The title story is actually the only story I fully recall off the top of my head. "Minnie's Room" is about a woman who works in an upper class home but has decided it's time for her to retire and get a small place of her own. What you see in the brief interaction between Minnie and her employer of many years and the family's quiet mumblings is what we now call a sense of entitlement. Minnie has been important to the running of their household, she'll probably be impossible to replace, and they think she should stay. The family feels a bit wounded by her announcement. But, Minnie has a mind of her own. "Minnie's Room" is really kind of a bland story and yet it's also very revealing in a fly-on-the-wall kind of way, like you're eavesdropping on the boss and his wife and daughter.

Recommended but not a favorite - Brilliant writing but possibly not the right book for the moment. While Minnie's Room will not end up in my favorite short story collections, I liked the stories for the author's stunning ability to choose the perfect descriptor and it seems likely that I'll give it a second reading in the future.

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